“What’s in Egmont?” asked our friend Kate as we packed up our bikes and donned our styrofoam lids. I shrugged. It was late Saturday morning during a bustling summer weekend in July and we were safe and sound at Klein Lake along the Suncoaster Trail on the Sunshine Coast.
As luck would have it, we were passing by the little fishing lake at the exact same time that some wayback friends were setting up their RV and getting situated for a beautiful week by the water. They most generously offered us to share in their camp spot.
The lake was tranquil and warm with a long wooden dock jutting out into the sparkling waters directly across from their site where we could swim with Western Painted Turtles and bask in long rays of sunshine. The temptation to stay was palpable, but there was a stirring inside us both. Adventure beckoned, the unknown called and we decided to rail ahead.
The tiny tourist town of Egmont lay two hundred vertical metres below us at the dead end of a whirling, winding road that falls from the Sunshine Coast highway down to the Sechelt Inlet’s shores. It would no doubt be teeming with city dwelling refugees, trying to hide away from their busy weekday lives on the Lower Mainland.
“I guess we’ll find out,” said Mat, finally answering Kate’s inquiry.
We had been to Egmont before, five years back when we decided to ride our bikes across Canada from the West Coast of Vancouver Island to the East. A friend had tipped us off about the little ocean getaway nestled away at the northernmost end of the southern section of the Sunshine Coast, the only bit of civilization near the Earls Cove ferry across that linked the Upper Coast to the Lower.
It’s also the gateway to the world renowned Princess Louisa and Jervis Inlets and holds the natural wonder of the Skookumchuck Narrows, a tidal waterway phenomenon in which the Sechelt Rapids surge through the narrows, moving 200 billion gallons of water upwards in sensational swells that create standing waves and wild whirlpools. It’s home to bright purple starfish, translucent jellyfish and giant bald eagles that swoop and sail from above, looking for nourishing saltwater snacks.
When we arrived in town, every campground was overflowing and the resorts and hotels were bursting at the seams. I wondered if we’d made the right call. We found a square section of greenspace near the oceanside marina and rolled over to the bright blue outhouse for a loo. As Mat relieved himself, I noticed a local passerby walking her dog.
“Excuse me, do you know if we can camp here in the park?” I asked, motioning to our full loaded bikes. “Well, I’m not sure,” she replied, “but Lisa would know.” She pointed towards a brisk walking woman with dirty blonde hair who was coming up the dirt road behind her.
It would just so happen that Lisa was the caretaker for the Egmont Community Hall which houses both the local thrift store and the library. She lived in her home-on-wheels in the back quarter, perched right next to a private nook of Secret Bay. As luck would have it, the Hall had just been approved for their camping license, though no one else in town was aware of it.
“Heck, you can camp here for fifteen bucks.” said Lisa, greeting us at the stairs of the Hall. “You can charge your electronics in the thrift store, use the free showers at the marina and even connect to our community wifi.” There was room for our tent atop the soft green grass in the community garden, surrounded by handmade wooden planter boxes brimming with dill weed, chamomile and perfectly ripened strawberries. We set up shop.
Lisa gave us all the hot tips about where to go for cheap breakfast with a view, happy hour on a bourgeois resort patio and the best viewing times for the narrows. She offered us cold cans of Wildcat and joined us on the green plastic garden chairs to talk about life.
She was kind and gentle and sensitive, but rugged and rough around the edges. She had left her old life in the city for the serenity and spectacularness of the Sunshine Coast. She had settled in Egmont and melded into the community like a dream, but in the midst of the pandemic, she, like many of us, was lonely. We appreciated her candor and she, our company. She made us feel welcome and appreciated and allowed. It was refreshing.
It was our fourth day cycling along the Lower Sunshine Coast Bikepacking route from Gibsons Landing to here and we had seen certain beauty in the tall trees of the ancient forests, along the manicured bike trails that connected the coast and in the deep forested lakes that stood still in the wilds.
But nothing could prepare us for the depth, the connection and the beauty that we could feel emanating from Lisa’s soul. She surprise joined us for happy hour that evening and as we sat amongst the rich, rubbing elbows with the Inlet and laughing like old friends, it felt like all the world was right.
As Mat and I rode home that evening, we stopped by the Skookumchuck Bakery to devour one of their famous cinnamon buns on the wooden patio in the woods. A tourist pamphlet caught my eye, advertising for local bioluminescence viewing.
Bioluminescence, a chemical reaction that occurs within certain living organisms, creates light that glows from within and equates to something like fireflies that live underwater. I hadn’t even considered that we could see them here.
When we asked the bakery’s barista if she knew when you could experience the northern lights of the sea, she looked at us with a smile. “Me and some friends are going around ten o’clock tonight,” she said, “right now is the perfect time to go.”
That night, Mat and I rolled our bikes along the start of the trail once the sky had fallen dark. We hiked our way along the meandering 4km trail towards the Skookumchuk Narrows and found ourselves a perfect place to perch along the tide beaten rocks. As the wild rapids began to form, a deep green glowing began to dance beneath the waves, growing stronger and brighter with each passing minute.
Our initial gasps of oohs and aahs turned to silence as we fell into a trance, watching the incredible wonders of nature light up the dark tides of the ocean. We felt immensely fortunate for our impeccable timing, staying stationary on the rocks for hours until the dance was over and the blue-green bioluminescence went home. So did we.
The next morning, we packed up our bikes and hugged Lisa good-bye before taking her advice for a cheap morning breakfast with a breath-taking view at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge.
We were fuelling up our fat stores for the next section of the Sunshine Coast bikepacking route that would beacon us on the other side of the Jervis Inlet. The Powell River Sampler Route would carry us north from Saltery Bay to Powell River, bobbing and weaving through old growth forests, divine backcountry lakes and stunning mountain vistas.
I laughed as I lapped up the last bite of my delectably over-stuffed bacon and crimini omelette and turned to Mat, reflecting on Kate’s question from days before.
“Well, Mat,” I said, gesturing out to the view, “I guess adventure is what’s in Egmont.”
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